Media Statement From Safeguarding Children/Tiakina Ngā Tamariki
A recent media story about a convicted child sex offender working at a New Zealand children’s day care centre as a casual ‘Santa’ is a wake-up call and shows the appalling lack of protection for children in this country, says Safeguarding Children CEO Willow Duffy.
“I’m sure that people wouldn’t want their own children sitting on the knee of a sex offender so why is this allowed to happen to any children at all? It is unacceptable that people who volunteer with children are not required to undergo police vetting and reference checking.”
New Zealand’s current legislation The Children’s Act does not require volunteers or the subcategory of ‘visitors’, which was used in the case of the day care centre, to undergo police vetting and reference checking. “New Zealand is years behind other countries such as the United Kingdom in this respect. The lack of protections for children makes such volunteer roles attractive to people who seek to harm chidren and puts our children at risk.”
Duffy says that organisations often say that if they required volunteers to be vetted in this way then they will have no volunteers coming forward but that this excuse is not acceptable nor does it prioritise the safety and needs of children.
“New Zealand legislation and guidelines are not good enough. We need to go above and beyond them to protect our children. My call to action is that parents start asking difficult questions and ask organisations “What are you doing to protect my children?” Assert your rights as a parent and advocate for your child. Ask organisations, “How do you recruit? Show me.”
“Children have the right to be safe. Parents have a right to know that their children are safe. Parents should challenge organisations because we could be waiting for legislation to change for a long time.”
There’s no doubt that legislative and systemic change is needed, says Duffy. “The Children’s Act should be the fence of safety around children and the fence is broken and needs fixing urgently. There are whole sectors that work with children that don’t have to comply. If they don’t comply what happens? There’s no carrot, there’s no stick.”
Duffy says that her organisation is constantly raising these concerns and that they have been echoed by the Children’s Commissioner. “We call upon the Government to use its next term to make the legislative and systemic changes needed to prevent abuse and neglect of children. A great first step is to make sure that Santa is a safe and well trained person who creates nothing but wonderful memories for our children.”